Sunday, December 18, 2005
Let's get one thing straight -- you're a white guy. Probably a white guy who thinks he's clever, too. And you've always been a white guy who thinks he's clever. And, thanks to that clever thing, you've always liked what you call "smart" or "literate" or "indie" rock music. Of course, you occasionally profess your love for mainstream hip-hop and electronic/dance music (or perhaps you profess your strong admiration for one, while dismissing the other), but at the end of the day, you go home and put on Spoon. Or Pavement. Or the New Pornographers. Or The Mountain Goats, if you think you're very clever but also sentimental.
Ever since you were a kid, your love of "smart," "literate" rock music (or, egads, "indie-pop!"), has made you wish that you could be a performer of said music. Because you are "smart" and "literate," after all, and what do these guys got that you don't got? That's the point of indie -- anyone can do it! Alas, you can't really sing. But hell, you don't need to sing! You're even cleverer than Britt Daniel or Stephen Malkmus!
This is where Talky-Shouty White Guy Rock Albums come in. The Talky bit is to demonstrate the importance of the lyrics ("literate!") and remind you of how clever the songwriter is. The Shouty bit is because you are "rock and roll." 2005 was a fantastic year for Talky-Shouty White Guy Rock Albums -- maybe one of the best since Bob Dylan invented the genre in 1965. Here's our brief ranking of the year's offerings for the melodically-impaired:
•LCD Soundsystem, LCD Soundsystem
James Murphy made an album specifically designed for critics to flip their shit over. It's that simple. He's 35 or something, his music is entirely pastiche, he's both underground and a known, established commodity (thanks to DFA and his production work for/remixes of every danceable, electronically-enhanced New York rock band). And, by the way, he doesn't sing. He talks and shouts, sort of. In a nasally voice. He claims it's a Mark E. Smith impression (rock critic gold!), but if it is, it's not as convincing as his Eno impression on the last track or his Suicide impression on the first half of "Movement." Truth be told, his talky-shouty voice sounds more like early Beck (uncool reference point -- critics politely looked the other way). Still, LCD Soundsystem, though they did release the single cleverest single of the last 5 years ("Losing My Edge"), are, in the end, more concerned with inducing dancing in listeners than impressing them with clever dickery. 3/5 Spoilt Victorian Children (boosted from 2.5 due to Mr. Murphy's acknowledgment of his ripping off Mark E. Smith).
•Art Brut, Bang Bang Rock and Roll
Outta nowhere, the English infected us with like 50 guitar bands that all kinda sounded the same but had interesting stories, like they were all 12 years old or they had recorded one single in their basements 12 minutes after learning to play their instruments, or they were Franz Ferdinand in bear suits or something. But only one group tapped into the rich English history of ultra-clever talky-shouty white guy rock -- Art Brut. Their first single ("Formed a Band," which sounds uncannily like a cheerful, apolitical Crass) stated it rather clearly (and loudly): "And yes, this is my singing voice, it's not irony, it's not rock 'n' roll, we're just talking, to the kids!" Also, Art Brut, (rightly) fearing the praise of rock critics, actively taunted them by recording a song about how they hate the Velvet Underground and generally sounding (extremely) half-assed. 4/5 Elastic Men (shy of a perfect score due to "singer" Eddie Argos' citation of Jonathan Richman as a major influence)
•The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday
Craig Finn's been rocking the talky-shouty bit since the mid-'90s, shortly after he realized he did a very poor Stephen Malkmus impression. And this is his masterpiece. He not only shouts, but he shouts over every second of the record, even opening the album by shouting over no musical accompaniment. Finn is of the loquacious school -- his shouting is supposed to make you think that he has so much to say and it's so important, that he has to say it very quickly and loudly to get it all out before the guitarist gets bored and goes home. And he hits the "literate" bit pretty damn strong, name-checking Nelsen Algren and Yeats and William Blake (on one song!) and writing an album-long narrative. 4.5/5 Jews on Motorbikes (.5 for the Springsteen thing. Sorry, Craig.)
•The Fall, Fall Heads Roll
Look-ah! The Fall put-ah outah ah-nother albumah! Markah E. Smithah shouts ah cover-ah ahf "I Can Hear the Grass Grow!" He shouts-ah about Heathraw Airport! He shouts-ah Football scoresah on the BBC-ah! His musical accompaniment is only slightly more accomplished than Art Brut's (and the band members are about the same age), but that's not really the point. It's the Fall. It's Mark E. Smith. He's talking and shouting. 5/5 Peel Sessions. |